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Gender Identification in the Talmud

The entry below is an excerpt from TRANSFIGURED.

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them.

(Genesis 5:1-2 NIV)

Today we look to the Jewish roots of our faith. The Talmud is an ancient collection of 63 tractates which instructed Jews on how to live. One of the tractates talks about the intersection of biological sex and gender performance, and lists these four categories in addition to male and female:

Androgynos:a person whose external sex characteristics are both male and female.

Tumtum: a person whose external sex characteristics are hidden or unclear.

Aylonit: a biological female who hasn’t started to look “womanly” by the time she is 20.

Saris:a biological male who hasn’t started to look “manly” by the time he is 20.

These descriptions are driven by body parts rather than identity. The system was developed because gender rules for behavior were closely connected to whether a person was biologically male or female. The Old Testament is filled with rules for male and female behavior.

Here’s one example for how gender assignment played out:

Blowing a shofar and listening to the sound was an important part of some religious rituals. Males were allowed to blow it for everyone to hear. Androgynos could blow it only for other androgynos to hear. Tumtum could blow it only for themselves to hear.

As with Christianity, most of these rules are no longer followed by many Jewish congregations. But at the time of writing, the Jewish faithful recognized that biological sex and gender were non-binary and had to find a way for non-binary people to know what they could and couldn’t do. Judaism is the religion out of which Christianity sprang. It held rules and law to be intrinsically connected to righteousness, yet understood the reality of biological variety. Isn’t it odd that our modern version of rules-driven Christianity can’t accept that reality?

The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be.

C.S. Lewis


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